Happiness is…

It seems to be a good time to revisit the concept of happiness. Rather than look at the many theories of happiness, it might be more productive if we stick to the show for evidence of what they consider signs of happiness.

What has been hardest for me is grasping how in two episodes Martin can go from, “Marry Me, I can’t bear to be without you,” to “You wouldn’t make me happy either.” It’s a bit easier to understand how Louisa, who has vacillated between finding Martin exasperating and being passionately drawn to him, could come to the conclusion that getting married might not be appropriate at this time. She hears all the jibes about Martin and his temperament and can only muster that he’s straightforward and moral when trying to describe him. For someone who’s been seen bicycling, surfing, enjoying the scene at the pub, and going out with friends, his preference for staying home and rarely doing anything beyond reading or working on his clocks might finally make her think twice. (I should say here that due to her upbringing and parents who were inclined to party a little too much perhaps, she might like someone who’s trustworthy and grounded even if he could be a bit dull.) We certainly have to take into account that throughout the final episode nearly everyone has been cautioning them against marriage and the Fates are against their marriage as well. We watch as Murphy’s Law takes charge. But if Martin can’t bear to be without Louisa, that would necessarily mean that he is miserable without her and bereft of any sense of happiness. That is exactly how he appears after their date goes wrong. Why is he now thinking that he wouldn’t be happy with her (ostensibly only 3 weeks later)?

Also, when in S4, Louisa snidely remarks that he may find being with someone prickly and emotionless like Edith makes him happy but she’d rather remain hormonal and filled with emotion, she is tacitly saying that she wouldn’t make him happy after all. Of course, Martin is once again totally baffled by her reference to Edith. Still, after S1, there is a concerted effort to keep Martin from looking happy in any overt way. The closest we ever get to seeing him look happy is a hint of a smile when he takes Louisa’s hand or when she says something complimentary to him, or when he looks at the ultrasound of their baby.

The first question we should ask is do we think there is evidence that ME has any awareness of the state of being happy? To answer this question we actually do have to consider the 4 major theories of happiness: Hedonism Theory, Desire Theory, Objective List Theory, and Authentic Theory. Simple descriptions of each can be found here. The proponents of the Authentic Theory believe that their theory takes all of the other theories into account. Happiness is a pretty complex subject that continues to be debated and refined. The dissertation by Ryan Hanlon Bremner written in 2011 does a very good job of addressing the various ways we use the term “happy.” While interrogating the philosophical approaches to this state, Bremner notes: “As long as the vast majority of people in Anglophone societies claim that one of their major, if not their main, goal is to ‘be happy,’ this desire and correspondent striving possesses a magnitude of importance that should not be ignored.” The fact that DM writers have made a point of whether Martin and Louisa are happy, both at the end of S3 and in S6, inspires us to look into what that means. They, too, are indicating that being happy is an important goal.

So what could Martin mean by saying Louisa wouldn’t make him happy after recently being despondent that she doesn’t want to see him anymore? At the risk of overthinking this, and not simply dismissing it as a goof or miscalculation by the writers/producers, it could mean that he’s nervous that he will have to make too many changes in his life to accommodate her. Daniel Haybron, a contemporary philosopher, believes that “well-being consists mainly in the fulfillment of the self’s emotional and rational aspects—i.e., in being authentically happy, and in success regarding the commitments that shape one’s identity. But our subpersonal natures may also count, so we might add, secondarily, the fulfillment of our “nutritive” and “animal” natures: health and pleasure.”

When given a chance to reflect, Martin may have gotten cold feet because he has reached a sense of well-being by distancing himself from others, sticking to his routine, and being content to treat medical conditions successfully and even insightfully. In addition, he has his own diet that he follows quite faithfully. He’s been doing all these things for around twenty years which means they are rather entrenched. He is pretty inflexible when it comes to his daily regimen and he resists modifying it. When Peter Cronk stays with him, for example, Martin is lost because he has trouble finding a way to manage someone else in his home and he doesn’t do very well with it.

What makes him happy? Well, his sense of well-being comes primarily from his work. He is confident of his medical knowledge and ability and we see him display satisfaction in saving a life or making a diagnosis. He accepts the gratitude he gets from the many patients, who sometimes grudgingly admit that he saved their lives, with some puffing out of his chest or pulling down of his shirt cuffs. He’s clearly pleased with himself. Next may be preparing fish/dinner. He takes pride in knowing how to clean and cook the fresh fish and vegetables he buys regularly, and putting together a nutritious meal. We can’t forget the clocks he enjoys working on. Saving the clocks is somewhat analogous to saving lives in that he staves off likely termination.

All of the above touches him on some personal level; however, his connection to people beyond medical cases boils down to family, Edith, and Louisa. We know that the only affection he’s gotten from family really comes from Aunt Joan. He must have had some intimate contact with Edith considering she alludes to his having seen her naked before. Hopefully he didn’t get stabbed by her hair or protruding bones! Once he sees Louisa, he knows he wants to get closer to her. Eventually that happens and the embrace they have after he’s asked her to marry him and she’s agreed shows him with an expression of joy and relief. We see expressions akin to this when he holds her hand both at the concert and then at the Castle, when she gives birth to their baby, and when he sees her at the entrance to the church on their wedding day. I cannot imagine that we aren’t supposed to think that he achieves a sense of well-being when he’s with Louisa.

My conclusion is that Martin does experience happiness on many occasions, but that his life hasn’t always been happy. Conversely, as philosopher G. H. Von Wright believes, it would be possible to say that someone had a happy life, even if for a long period of time he was a most unhappy person. We see both of these scenarios being played out and now we hope to see the happy periods combined with an overall sense of well-being. He’s got a wife, a son, and Ruth. He’s got his medical practice and ability. He should stop being so miserable!!

Originally posted 2014-10-14 18:11:55.

20 thoughts on “Happiness is…

  1. egwrd

    I have chosen to interpret ME telling Louisa that she wouldn’t make him happy either in S3E8, as ME not being truthful to Louisa. What I believe he really felt in his heart was that HE wouldn’t be able to make Louisa happy. Otherwise, the writing as is just doesn’t make any sense for all the reasons you talked about in your, as always, wonderful post. And there are other examples when ME says one thing, and means another. Like when he says “Louisa, you look . . . busy” in an episode in S3, when we all know he was thinking “Louisa, you look beautiful” and Louisa responds “thank you” (one of my favorite bits!!!).

  2. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Thank you very much! Your way of interpreting his comment is a way to cover up the possible mistake made by the writers. In my mind, it’s not quite the same as your other example because in that case he was hesitant to be too forward and quickly substituted another word. He’s always putting up defenses to protect himself, and it’s funny in a mild way. I liked it too because it seemed so natural for him to be uncomfortable giving her a compliment. He tends to hold back rather than expose his true feelings. When they decide not to marry that day, he’s been mulling it over for some time. You might say he makes the mistake of saying she wouldn’t make him happy either as a way of putting up defenses again. I could possibly stretch my sense of credibility that far. Her response is great because she seems to be aware that he is trying to give her a compliment even when it doesn’t come out right.

  3. Mary F.

    I agree Egwrd that ME felt one thing and said another…especially when they didn’t marry. He had just seen the pastor who told him the question that he should be asking himself was “Do I make her happy?” and not “Does she make me happy?”. I think this weighed heavily on him all day and became one reason for his final decision not to marry. He doesn’t feel he is able to make her happy. And right behind this feeling is the ever darker one, that he doesn’t think he deserves Louisa.
    It seems ME is far more comfortable throwing away happiness with both hands than in reaching out of his comfort zone to get it. Until the end of Series 6 anyway, when he realizes how unhappy he is without his family. The final scene of him walking down the hospital corridor as a cart with bars being rolled by an attendant crosses behind him, briefly making it appear as if he is indeed in a cage, says it all.

  4. Abby

    I have always had the sense that Martin telling Louisa she wouldn’t make him happy either was a way of saving face, i.e. a defensive move as others have suggested. The only other possibility, in my mind, was that he could see how much pain Louisa was in by saying she did not want to marry him and was attemping to relieve her guilt. But, I think the first possibility makes more sense, given that we have seen Martin’s defensiveness throughout the series.

  5. Joan

    I think his attempts to get the wedding organized at the last minute made him pretty miserable and his current misery made him forget about his misery in being without her. His feelings for her have made him feel like being on an emotional roller coaster and therefore very unhappy. He also knows he couldn’t make her happy because he doesn’t deserve her. He probably blames himself for the bad breath episode and for telling her that her perfume smelled urine-like. He seems to have this much self-understanding since after Louisa told him she misunderstood what he meant when he told her congratulations on being selected head mistress. She said she thought she’d thought he didn’t want her to be head mistress but she had misunderstood him. He replied easily done. Another time she asked him why their conversations tended to turn into arguments. He said whenever he speaks it makes her angry. She replied angrily to this statement and he said with irritation. I think you’ve proven my point. I think he finally sees his strong feeling for her are actually making him unhappy,

  6. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Mary, you are so right to bring up the conversation Martin and the Pastor have. Here they are talking while Martin works on the pig’s anus, who the Pastor said he would keep “happy” in the front. When the Pastor asks him what the most important question he should ask himself is, Martin has been digging around in the pig’s anus and has s— on this gloved finger. As you note, Martin’s answer is “Does she make me happy” and the Pastor says he almost has it right, but it’s “Do I make her happy.” And this is what we are confronted with at the end of the episode, only they both pose the wrong question. Louisa says Martin wouldn’t make her happy and Martin concurs that she wouldn’t make him happy either. What do they mean by happy? That we can’t say exactly. All we know is that they both care about being happy on some level. We also know that a partly drunk Pastor is giving Martin advice about an institution he doesn’t think much of while talking over a pig that’s in pain and that he’s decided to be devoted to. How does that affect the message?

  7. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I’m with you on the wedding day being difficult, but he does tell Louisa to trust him and he will take care of things. I also follow you with their typical argumentative style and misunderstandings. I’m not sure I can make the leap to him being unhappy because of his feelings for Louisa. As I said in the post, I do wonder if he has finally decided he has reservations about being happy once married, although he consistently derides the notion that it’s important to be happy, whatever that means to him. Very contradictory messages throughout the show, don’t you think?

    I think we must all conclude that the wedding episode in S3 is set up to end without a wedding. There are just too many ways they telegraph that throughout the episode.

  8. Santa Traugott

    I have a different take on some of the “happy” references in the Doc Martin episodes.

    In the one in S4E6, where they are standing outside the Wenn’s house, I think Louisa is being both sarcastic and expressing hurt feelings that he seems to prefer Edith to her. As the line was delivered, it was, ” if THAT’s what makes you happy, good for you….” If he prefers cold, prickly and intimidating to someone who is warm and supportive, etc., well then he’s an idiot and she doesn’t even care, so there.

    The one in the non-wedding scene is clearly more consequential, as in fact this is how it did play out in S6, and is echoed in the hospital scene in E7, where Louisa tells him that she’s not happy and she’s not making him happy either.

    Karen’s question is an excellent one — how did we get from joy in E5, to such sadness in E7? There was, first of all, a hint in an earlier scene that all was not going to go well. When they are on the balcony of Louisa’s house and she tells him that they have to get married in 3 weeks, you can see that they both have a little doubt about whether is wise, but they reassure each other that it will be fine, with, I think, a little bit of bravado covering up some doubts,

    Putting their relationship in perspective: they have known each other for some indeterminate period of time and are obviously strongly attracted to each other. But their interactions have mostly been fraught, with one or both going off upset and/angry. They have had only a couple of brief intimate conversations, in the ambulance with Peter Kronk, and another in his kitchen at the end of S3E1 (“time for something new.”) In the drunken one in Erotomania Louisa remarks that she thought he would reveal more of himself if she got him loosened up with drink, but it didn’t happen. They’ve had one real date, where they mostly didn’t talk, and it ended disastrously. So against this backdrop, the precipitate decision to marry seems rather foolhardy, in the first place.

    So I think that in their mutual decision, not to marry, they were acting on the old adage, “marry in haste, repent at leisure.” E7 is rife with clues about the denouement.
    1) Martin and Mrs. T. have a brief conversation at the church where she is practicing the organ and he says he didn’t know she played the organ, and Mrs. T. remarks how odd it is that you can know someone for so long and not know much about them really.
    2) Louisa, alone with her friends, is subject to quite a lot of pointed teasing about Martin’s likely inadequacies as a partner. What sends her storming off, though, is when they tease her about being unable to imagine him as a father. We have been told that Louisa really wants kids, several of them for preference.
    3) Louisa and Martin help her bridesmaid deliver her baby. In gratitude, she asks Martin to be godfather. He is pleased and about to accept when Louisa, acting still, I think, out of her sense that he doesn’t want to be bothered with these obligations, turns it down for him. I think that was thought-provoking for both of them. My point is: it seems clear they had never discussed this critical issue, in their haste to be married and to submerge all rational doubts about whether they were making a sensible decision. They wanted to be together, they didn’t want to consider obstacles. Louisa is forced to deal with her underlying (and mistaken) belief that he doesn’t want children, and Martin must recognize that she doesn’t know him as well as she thinks she does.
    4. Martin has a conversation with the dry-cleaner, in which the man remarks that his wedding day was happy too but then it was all down-hill, b/c she was constantly criticizing him. “She knew what I was like when she married me.” She wanted to change him, he felt that he shouldn’t have to change, and she should have taken him as he was. (Interesting how this parallels the fish-monger at the end of S5, who also made a comment about his loneliness that deeply impressed Martin, I think.)

    Anyway: here at the last minute, multiple clues are thrown up to cause each of them to reflect on what, really, they are doing. Louisa can’t escape that she wants children, and I think she believes that he doesn’t. Martin can’t escape that a) he doesn’t know Louisa very well, really and b) she will undoubtedly want to change a life-style that he has evolved that suits him.

    This is an important point. Karen astutely remarks about how his circumscribed life-style nevertheless offers him some satisfactions, and above all, does not stir up emotions that might provoke anxiety and unhappiness. Marriage will upset this, as I think Martin senses and finally can’t avoid facing. I think that his saying to her “you wouldn’t make me happy either” is quite sincere. Mistaken, in the end, but sincere.

    Now here’s the rub. Is happiness merely the avoidance of pain, which Martin’s decision seems to imply? As I see it, his relationship with Louisa, while fraught with risk, has offered Martin a choice: he can remain in his comfortable shell, or he can reach out and feel all the emotions that a real relationship has to offer: joy, sadness, frustration, affection, anger, a deep sense of being understood and cared for, etc., etc. His choice, at the end of the infamous E7, is not to take that risk. He is afraid, and with good reason — because as yet, he does not (yet) have the wherewithal to make a relationship work, and in his reflection, he recognizes this. All of S6 and to some extent, S5, has shown that this belated insight was correct. What we see in his cathartic conversation with Aunt Ruth is his recognition of what this choice has cost him, and I think a decision to finally make the life-affirming choice of changing enough to be with Louisa.

    As a side note, I do want to say that I think that the notion that our happiness is someone else’s responsibility is fundamentally wrong. No one else can “make me happy.” It’s no one else’s job to “make me happy,” just as it’s not my job to make someone else happy. Sure, it’s my responsibility to try not to actively make someone else miserable, to change what I can change so that life together is more comfortable — but our happiness has to come from within ourselves, and is no one else’s responsibility but ours.

    As a therapist (and I don’t think I was a particularly good one, so take this with more than a few grains of salt) I didn’t think of my task as helping someone to be “happy.” Happiness as a global state was not really the point. I think it was more along the lines of helping people dismantle the obstacles to their living authentically –without crippling anxieties and phobias and dysfunctional thoughts that lead people to restrict themselves and shut themselves off. What they do with that authentic self — one where their ego is overall in control, rather than super-ego or id (to use very old terms) is up to them. It may not lead to more than occasional states where one is happy and knows it — but I think it leads to a life that is ultimately more satisfying and deeply lived. In other words, I’m not sure I believe in “happiness” as a goal. I more believe that happiness is an occasional byproduct of living “authentically” if that makes any sense.

  9. Santa Traugott

    Karen, there’s a well-known novel that ends with the phrase, “one must believe that [so and so] was happy.”

    I’ve been trying and trying to think of what it is, but it won’t come to me. Do you know? or did I make this up?

  10. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Once again your comments are very profound. What makes someone happy might not work for someone else, but we have to respect that there is no one way to be happy. It’s so true that we shouldn’t expect our happiness to be someone else’s responsibility. But relationships do impact both parties and if one person is suffering in any way, his/her significant other will be affected. How can Louisa generate happiness within herself when Martin is acting so depressed and distant?

    Nevertheless, I agree that making “happiness” a goal is too vague and purposeless and that it is a byproduct of living an “authentic” life. (I also think genes have something to do with our approach to happiness and life.)

    Thanks for the rundown of all the ways the episode establishes the wedding is doomed, and you didn’t even list them all! They certainly haven’t had enough time to think clearly by the end of S3. They have had enough time by S6 though. They’ve also had all sorts of trials and tested living together with the baby. To me, ME appears to like being a father and taking care of a baby. It gives him additional satisfaction in a job well done. He likes demonstrating that he can handle a baby and its needs. I still think that the reversal in S6 was a surprise and not presaged by previous behavior. Oh well. It is what it is!

  11. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I’ve been trying to find my copy of Madame Bovary because that quote sounds like it comes from there. There would be many quotes from MB that would fit some of our discussion about happiness and marriage. I know I have several copies of that book and can’t believe I can’t find one right now. Will keep looking…

  12. Santa Traugott

    I found it! It’s the last line of Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus: “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

    Talk about a circumscribed life!

  13. Linda D.

    I agree with you Abby on your two theories about why Martin said that Louisa wouldn’t make him happy either. If he wanted to relieve her of guilt, his words might have been intended to convey that she wasn’t the only one who wanted to back out. Still, I have never been able to figure this episode out and I see that several others feel the same. Neither of them asked WHY. She was clearly taken aback and must have thought she DID make him happy. What would he have said if she had asked him why he didn’t think she would make him happy? How did he arrive at the notion that he didn’t make her happy? Did they ever discuss it? No! As for the other theory, I’m not sure I see Martin as being “defensive” when he makes comments like this. I think it is more that he doesn’t know what to say or how to say things. He was quoting Mr. Porter like a magpie because that was one of the last meaningful things he heard. And who would take seriously something one heard while having their finger stuck up a pig’s ass and while kneeling in slop! Did he not think back to the happy weeks they had been enjoying? He let Porter plant the seed of doubt in him and didn’t even talk to Louisa. He never believed he deserved her and believed she COULDN’T be happy with him because he was so unworthy of her love. Louisa also listened to other’s snipes and opinions a bit too much and got caught up in the wedding hype and problems. How did that add up to Martin not making her happy? She was blissfully happy after the engagement! She let Mrs. Tishell get to her. How did Mrs. Tishell even get invited in to the house? She was clearly there to cause trouble. Even if they were calling the wedding off, one would expect some frank dialogue about WHY instead of him standing there dumbfounded, and her walking away. Both were broken hearted. That was clear. Happiness? Well there was a possibility for it in this episode, but it didn’tplay out well at all.

  14. Linda D.

    I don’t actually think he was mulling it over for some time. I just don’t see that. I just think, as someone else has said, that the Fates were against them and both bought into the negativity instead of talking things through. Her response was more baffling to me than his.

  15. Mary F.

    Yes Karen, we don’t really know what it is exactly that makes either of them “happy”….everyone has a different definition and the Pastor has indeed been drinking a bit much! Although after marrying scores of couples the Pastor could probably claim to be a better judge than most of which couples stand a chance to be happy.
    Which leads me to a new question, is there is a significant difference between happiness and contentment?
    If we were to view happiness as a sense of elation, then that feeling is almost always fleeting, but contentment is more subtle, less exciting and generally lasts far longer. Its being comfortable with all the ups and downs of married life, with all the inevitable quibbles you have with your partner, with taking the mature view that no one can satisfy your every want/need and thats okay. You simply feel secure with your partner and the life you have together.
    If we think about one of the last episodes where Louisa tells Martin she is not happy and he responds with “Why does everyone have to be happy all the time?” …perhaps this is a tiny bit of what he was alluding to. (Of course they were not “happy” even a little bit of the time at that point so his comment does nothing but exasperate Louisa further. )

  16. LindaD.

    Martin has not recognized the importance of togetherness! He misses that love is like a light from a light house – emitting hope and happiness. He does not see Louisa and James as having changed his life for the better. As a child, love was not freely expressed and Martin never felt respected or valued by his parents. Thus, he doesn’t know Louisa’s vulnerabilities, has only some idea of her deepest fears, and , concerns and has no idea words that will soothe her in a comforting love. It is the same for her. Simply put, they don’t know enough about one another.

    Louisa often proudly introduces Martin as her husband and a doctor but he rarely says anything about her profession. Neither makes any noise about thinking their partner is special or amazing. They don’t nurture their bond by having pet names, leaving love notes, having signs of affection, known only to them, hugs, cuddles and sharing of joys and fears. Perhaps this is because they don’t feel emotionally safe with each other which stems from their childhood experiences I expect. Martin, to our knowledge, never acknowledged Louisa for having carried and carried his son, in less than ideal conditions. She, also no to our knowledge, never said anything about it being great that he was there for the birth and for the first night home with a brand new baby- though she seemed pleased.

    Lastly, their sexual passion seems to have been lost in busy lives and confusion about how they feel about one another. Having been present together for the birth and his having declared his wrongness about her and about leaving, one might have expected a bit of affection once they got home with baby? I suppose they were both in a fog then but it was a potential bonding moment. He had time to buy roses surely!

  17. Cathy R

    I am thoroughly enjoying going through the archives, and have this to say about the attempted wedding in season 3: I too don’t believe that we are responsible for another person’s happiness, but I interpreted the pastor’s comment in a broader sense. When he tells Martin that he must consider whether he makes Louisa happy, he means that marriage has to be entered into unselfishly. I also took Martin and Louisa’s statements to each other at face value: since they are both still thinking primarily about what the other one can do for them, neither is ready to get married.

  18. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I agree that marriage works best when each spouse thinks about the other and tries to keep their significant other uppermost in their thoughts; however, doesn’t Martin preempt Louisa in that scene by saying “I wouldn’t make you happy?” He guessed that’s what she was going to tell him and then claimed that she wouldn’t make him happy either. They were thinking about themselves as well as about each other in a sense. It’s important to marry someone you think you’ll enjoy life with, even if that’s a selfish thought to some degree. Louisa realized after her friend asked her about Martin that she couldn’t describe him in an appealing way, and the sarcastic remarks her other friends made about him gave her pause too. She had agreed to marry him precipitously after having a bad date, calling off the relationship, and then reconsidering after he made some effort to be more conciliatory and then heroically saved her friend’s life. I can see having second thoughts after having a chance to think about it in greater depth. Their rush to marry only three weeks after those events gave them too little time to be sure of their decision, and they both came to the same conclusion.

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